When people think of Umbria, they usually think of Assisi or tiny Todi as a destination, but there is actually much much more to see and do than meets the eye. To first get your bearings, it's good to know about Umbria's famed (and some lesser known) hill towns. All accessible by train, but some less so...
The main hill towns extend from Perugia to Assisi to Spello to Trevi, ending with Spoleto. Of course, off the beaten path are towns like Torgiano, Deruta or Montefalco (with its excellent wineries). Torgiano even has a wonderful wine museum - founded by the local Lungarotti winery family - where you actually will never see a bottle of wine on display.
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But tidy Spello is a favorite.
Easily accessible, the train does not land far from its low-lying town center. Its stream of stone homes and charming chapels seem to cling to the little slope. The tiny alleyways are lined with bistros and coffee bars and artisan galleries, since it plays host to a number of artists, authors and creatives living within its walls.
All summer long, visitors can feast their eyes on the flower decorations lining every balcony and staircase, culminating in May with an infiorata - where the streets are paved with flower petals in intricate designs. At Christmastime, residents go out of their way to deck the halls and you'll find tiny nativity scenes and other scenery tucked away in random niches or on doorsteps. But this artist town makes sure that not a centimeter of drab space doesn't get spruced up in some way.
Places to Eat
It's great to plan a lunch in any of the restaurants there, and I always enjoy a typical Umbrian treat of scrambled eggs with local truffles (be sure to look out for tartufo specialties). The Locanda del Postiglione in its main piazza – surprisingly delivers excellent food and service, and is one locale where my usual tendency to avoid central square eateries due to over tourism does not apply. High above at the opposite end of town, and near the stunning Belvedere (literally, "Nice View"), I recently happened upon the Osteria del Bucchetto and enjoyed a fabulous meal along with a number of locals, who clearly know where to go for fine food.
Spello doesn't disappoint, but in nearby Foligno (in the flatlands), you will also find even more excellent contemporary art galleries and fine bistros interspersed with impressive medieval stone churches, palaces and pedestrian zones that make up its old city center.
To complete your exploration, wander over to Bevagna - though quiet, it often plays host to events and medieval festivals, especially in May and October.
If you are traveling by train, just know that:
- Perugia has some buses that can carry you up from the distant train station, but it is walkable up that hill (just think of the joy of returning downhill!)
- Assisi offers a shuttle bus service up to the city center.
- While Foligno is easily reached by train, with two exceptional hotels right outside the train station.
- Trevi is impossible by train, which is why there are few tourists and no hope for a taxi at its (quite) desolate station. It is very small but affords nice views across to Montefalco and the Umbrian valley.
- Last, but not least, is Spoleto - quite easily accessible by train, just be sure to don comfortable walking shoes – It puts the 'hill' in hill town.
Places to Stay
ALBERGO IL CACCIATORE
The hotel offers large rooms and a terrace overlooking the Umbrian valley. It is located in the medieval center of Spello, set between Assisi and Foligno. With free WiFi, rooms at the Cacciatore are bright, quiet and have private bathrooms and panoramic views. The family-run Albergo Cacciatore features a daily breakfast buffet served on their panoramic terrace. The 3-star Il Cacciatore is just 500 m from the Spello Railway Station and just 100 m from coaches leaving for Foligno. Famous landmarks such as the S. Maria Maggiore Church are less than a 5-minute walk away. My room was comfy and had a wonderful view of the countryside. The staff was very helpful - they even offered to move my car in and out of the narrow garage.
Just a 5-minute walk from the historic center of Foligno and set in a historic building, Relais Metelli is 200 m from the Foligno Train Station. Wi-Fi and a large car park are both free. It is a charming boutique hotel on a lovely street. The hotel has been totally refurbished with beautiful classic decor. Breakfast was nice with great atmosphere. Staff were excellent and helpful. Location of Relais Metelli is perfect for star touring. Very close to Assisi, Spello, Spoleto. We found many nice wineries with wine tastings in the area.
VILLA DEI PLATANI
Just 51 m from Foligno Train Station, Villa dei Platani Boutique Hotel & Spa is a restored historic building offering modern-style accommodations in the center of the city. It provides free Wi-Fi and free parking. All rooms at Villa Platani are air-conditioned and soundproofed and feature a free minibar and 2 flat-screen TVs with satellite channels. Always my first choice when working in the area. Great location for the railway station and only a five minute walk into the historic town center. The staff here are really terrific. And, they love my little dog, Arcibaldo.
HOTEL LE MURA
Located in Foligno's old town center, Le Mura (The Walls) is about a 20 minute walk from the Foligno Train Station and 200 m from the Astronomical Observatory. It offers air-conditioned rooms with free Wi-Fi. All en suite rooms at Hotel Le Mura feature a flat-screen TV and mini-bar. Restaurant Le Mura has been mentioned in various tour guides and is famous for its (amazing!) soups straight from La Zupperia (opened at lunchtimes) and grilled meat. The hotel bar serves drinks and snacks. Street parking with authorization on dash makes access convenient. Restaurant in lower level is spectacular. Family operated -- it shows in their attention to detail. Gotta love it!